Luckey: Eminent domain effort challenged

By: 
Larry Limpf

News Editor
news@presspublications.com

Does the Village of Luckey have the authority to obtain privately-owned land through the eminent domain process to develop a municipal water system?
A case pending in Wood County Common Pleas Court addresses that question.
Attorneys for the village and T&S Agriventures, LLC, have until Nov. 15 to file closing briefs and their replies in the case being heard by Judge Mary Mack.
The village obtains water through ground wells or by trucking in water from outside sources but it intends to create a municipal source of water for its residents and argues it has the statutory authority to use the power of eminent domain to do so, a village court filing says.
The 72.5-acre property in question is in the village and includes a quarry that is about 70-80 feet deep and covers about 30 acres. The site had been used by France Stone Company as a quarry before being abandoned. The quarry is filled by a combination of surface and storm runoff as well as water rising from the bedrock aquifer that was hit when the stone company was operating.
Tim Snyder and Steven Snyder, through T&S Agriventures, purchased the property as part of a multi-parcel purchase in 2005, and from then to 2021 made “ substantial improvements to the property with the intention of developing the property themselves or selling the property to a developer,” the owners state in a filing.

Offer made
The village’s court filings include a copy of its notice of intent to acquire dated Sept. 21, 2022. The notice includes a legal description of the property and a “good faith offer” of $525,000 as well as a copy of a resolution passed that same day by village council authorizing appropriating the property through eminent domain.
The Snyders argue they had by July 2021 largely completed efforts to improve the property and prepare it for sale. They contracted with Beth Rose Real Estate and Auctions to market the property and an auction was scheduled for Sept. 18, 2021.
When village officials heard in August of the pending auction, they moved quickly to “thwart the auction,” the Snyders’ filing says. Citing the minutes of the Aug. 17, 2021 council meeting, the Snyders say village council passed a motion directing the village solicitor to “begin the eminent domain process on the property for public purpose.”
But, neither the motion nor the minutes of the meeting includes any information on what the public purpose was, a brief by the Snyders says.
“Critically, at no point during the Aug. 17, 2021 meeting or thereafter, until Sept. 21, 2022 did the village pass/enter a resolution authorizing the appropriation of the subject property,” the brief notes.
The village issued its first notice of intent to acquire the property on Aug. 20, 2021 but the Snyders argue it was deficient because it wasn’t backed by a resolution or ordinance approved by council.
They also contend the village interfered with the auction by demanding the auctioneer notify bidders of the village’s notice of intent and by sending people to the auction to dissuade others from bidding. The Snyders also claim the village erected “No Parking” signs and barriers “in a clear attempt to disrupt the auction.”
Two days prior to the auction, the village also issued a second notice of intent to acquire, identifying the purpose for the appropriation as solely for a public water supply.
The village’s actions chilled potential bidders and the property failed to meet its reserve, leaving the Snyders retaining the title, the Snyder filing says.
The third notice of intent was issued Sept. 21, 2002 but the Snyders contend the resolution backing it was deficient.

Appraisal made
The village obtained an appraisal in January 2022 of $435,000 for the property with an effective date of Nov. 11, 2021. However the Snyders claim they haven’t been given any information supporting the appraised value.
In its filings, the village contends it has met the statutory requirements for eminent domain.
“Here, defendants (the Snyders) cannot meet the high burden of demonstrating bad faith, fraud, or an abuse of discretion by the village. There is no evidence that the village has acted with conscious wrongdoing or fraud. Instead the village seeks to acquire defendants’ property for a public water supply as the village currently seeks to acquire defendants’ property for a public water supply as the village currently does not have a municipal water supply – facts that are undisputed. Although defendants may disagree with the village’s decision, that does not equate to an abuse of discretion under Ohio law,” the village argues.
To switch to a public water system, the village is required to have approval from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
“All public water systems must have Ohio EPA approval before switching to or adding a new source for public drinking water. The agency evaluates that source to ensure water quality and that it can provide enough water to serve the community’s needs. Ohio EPA has not been asked to approve a new source for the village's drinking water,” said Dina Pierce, a spokesperson for the Ohio EPA.
Jerry Greiner, president of the Northwest Water and Sewer District, said Luckey is one of three villages in Wood County out of a total of 19 that doesn’t have a municipal water system.
He said the district does operate the village’s sewer collection system pump stations by contract.

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